(listen to the article below via the player above)
Sell First, Create Later
I frequently encounter entrepreneurs and digital creators online who spend a lot of time creating an elaborate online course, spend months, or even a year, creating a single course or sometimes an entire digital library, working on the content, setting up the membership site, hiring a copywriter to write the copy for the sales page, lining up affiliate partners to help them with the promotion, setting up a bunch of Facebook ads, priming their list. And then they launch it to their list and then... <crickets>.
On the flip side, I also see people posting something like this: “I’m creating a fantastic new course about Cat Juggling. Comment ‘YUP’ if you want a copy.” Or “Would you buy it for a 90% discount?”.
They may end up with a bunch of people commenting and engaging with their posts. But it’s so easy for people to engage with your content because commenting is free - they don’t have to buy anything, and talk is cheap. And free opinions and free advice should always be taken with a boatload of salt.
You: “Hey, would you like to know how to become an expert at Cat Juggling?”
Them: “Of course! I love this!| I want it now!!!”
You: “Would you pay $50 for it?”
Them: “Abso-frickin-lutely! It’s a steal”
You: “Cool cool! Ok, here’s a link to buy it for just $10 - go ahead and sign up now”.
Them: “Um, I am currently working on an overdue project for a client. Once I finish it, I’ll get back to you”.
Or: <no response>
Or: “I am launching my membership site next week. After that, I’ll check this out”.
You get the idea. People will say anything in the spur of the moment, especially when they see a whole bunch of engagement on your post. It looks exciting and new and shiny. But the moment you ask them to take the next step, a lot of them will suddenly become very busy.
I’ve encountered this over and over again with not just paid stuff, but even with free stuff.
In the past, every time I’ve launched a new Kindle eBook, I like to seed it with reviews as soon as I publish it, even before I officially launch it to my list. So I’ll go on Facebook, both in my personal feed as well as highly relevant Facebook groups (after getting permission from the group admin, of course) and post something like this:
“Hey, I’ve just launched a new Kindle book titled <insert title>. Would love to give you a free copy if you would be willing to check it out and leave me an honest review on Amazon. Feel free to add that you received a free copy in your review. Thanks!”
I’ll get tons of “Yes, I would love to”. And then I PM them, ask them for their email, and give them a free copy, by giving them access to my membership site powered by DigitalAccessPass. If they haven’t left me a review, I’ll even remind them with automated follow-up emails and even personally message them. Over half of them won’t respond at all. That’s ok – I was still able to add them to my email list, and my hope is that by delivering great value over time, I’ll be able to convert them.
Then I modified my offer by adding a deadline to it, to see if that changes anything: “Hey, I’ve just launched a new Kindle book titled <insert title>. Would love to give you a free copy if you would be willing to check it out within a week and leave me an honest review on Amazon. Please let me know only if you have the time to read it within a week. Cheers!”.
But many of them will come up with every imaginable excuse, practically everything except “my dog ate my review”. Life gets in the way for all of us, work and business pressures, deadlines, family and personal health, etc can all derail what we had hoped to get done. But saying you’ll read it and review it within a week, and then multiple follow-ups and weeks later, saying you’ve been busy with your launch, are just a sign of indifference, procrastination, or just not caring to follow through on your “promise”.
Now, you could say that they were so indifferent because my book was free, so they didn’t value it much and didn’t care about taking action, and they might have taken action if they’d actually paid for it. Trust me, I’ve seen people pay for courses and never get past the initial login – they don’t download the content or watch the videos. I can tell because I use S3MediaVault to deliver all of the digital content, and it shows me reports about every user – how many times they’ve logged in (via DigitalAccessPass.com), how many times they’ve viewed the videos and how many times they’ve downloaded the PDF’s (both features of S3MediaVault).
But on the flip side, you could also say, if they won’t follow through on their promise for something free, why would they follow through on their commitment of buying your product when it launches?
That’s why the phrase “Put your money where your mouth is” is so powerful, because it’s one thing for someone to say “Sure, I’ll buy it”, and another thing to pull out their credit card and make an actual purchase.
So until you make people put their money where their mouth is, and make an actual offer and give them an incentive to pay you now, nothing else they say about how they will buy it or want to buy it or need it, will matter.
Also, if you post something like “Comment below if you want a copy”, there’s a good chance that a lot of your followers will assume it’s free, even if you haven’t explicitly said “free copy”. So if you private message (PM) them later with a link to your offer page where they have to pay for it, you will get a lot of disappointed and angry folks upset that you did a bait-and-switch and intentionally misled them into thinking it was free.
So sure, go ahead and ask the “Would you be interested in buying it?” question, get some engagement going, let people know what you’re working on, maybe even ask them for advice about the title of your course (oh, how we all love giving their opinions!) or about the modules or chapters.
But don’t get too excited about the engagement for that post, because that doesn’t mean anything for your bottom line when it comes to making sales.
The only way you can know for sure, is to create an actual offer, which should include a huge discount and a bunch of great bonuses, make it an irresistible offer, and then see how many will vote with their dollars, and not just with a like or comment.
What you’re doing here is Product Validation, or PreSelling: “to precondition (someone, such as a customer) for subsequent purchase or create advance demand for (something, such as a product) especially through marketing strategies”, or “to sell in advance” (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/presell).
One day, I was chatting with a good friend who is also my coaching client. He wanted me to coach him for free and help him launch the membership program that he was going to be working on. He was confident that he would be able to charge $100 per student, and after the launch, he would then pay me my coaching fee using the payments from the first 30 students (my yearly unlimited coaching fee is $3,000). And then he would also pay me a few hundred dollars extra as a bonus, and he would keep all profits from that point.
So he wanted me to help him launch upfront, and then get paid later. And my time would become my investment into his business.
Instead, I asked him, why spend weeks or months working on something that you don't even know if it will sell? You don’t have an email list, not much of a social following, and those you’re connected to are probably not your potential buyers (lots of friends and family).
And even if someone comments on social media that they will buy it when it's ready, there's no guarantee that they will actually follow through on that commitment. The only way to truly know for sure is to make them put their money where their mouth is.
Sell First, Create Later.
If you're going to charge, say, $99 for your online course when it's completed, offer it to your audience for maybe a 50% discount. See if they're willing to pay for it today before you've even created it. Or maybe even a 90% discount for the first group of "Founding Members".
Let’s say you give the early birds 50% off and charge them only $49 in total. You don’t even have to make them pay it all upfront. You could simply charge them $1 today, with another single automated payment of $48 in 7 days.
This gives them the incentive of not having to pay in full for something that’s not yet created, it delays the majority of their payment to a month from now, and they still get the early-bird discount and bonuses.
And this strategy gives you a major incentive to finish it within 7 days. If you make it 30 days, then you’ll probably end up procrastinating for 23 days and probably still end up doing it in a week. Instead, put all of the pressure on yourself to work fast and ship fast.
Also, you don’t have to have the entire course ready in 7 days. You can create just 1 or 2 main modules and release those to whet their appetite. As long as you keep them informed of the content schedule, they’ll be happy to wait, because you’re (hopefully) over-delivering with your price, bonuses, and your content.
And even though you’re offering it for a massive discount, you’ve still got to create some really cool bonuses for these early birds (see chapter “Badass Bonuses”).
Preselling works very well if they already know-, like-, and trust you a little, especially because you want them to actually pay for something that's you’ve not even begun to create yet.
But if you do already have an audience (however small) that knows-, likes-, and trusts you, then buying your upcoming course or other digital product at a 50%-90% discount with a payment of just $1 today, with all of the bonuses, should be a no-brainer, provided your content is a good match for what they're looking for.
I prefer to charge them the full payment (after the discount) upfront so that they don’t back out later out of sheer buyer’s remorse. But just because they paid upfront doesn’t change anything about refunds – if they want a refund, just give it to them, no questions asked.
If it’s a low-ticket item and the price is already pretty low to offer a big discount, then I prefer to offer some extra expiring bonuses, instead of a discount.
So it all depends on the niche, your relationship with your audience, and your level of confidence in the course topic and content.
Selling it first will allow you to validate the interest of your audience. If they won't buy it for a whopping discount and an irresistible offer, there's no way to know if they will buy it at the full price down the road.
And if people who already know-, like-, and trust you won’t buy it now, it’s going to be even harder to get strangers to buy it.
Doing this will also give you a lot of insight into your audience, niche, your offer-creation, and marketing skills.
[Cat Juggling is a famous and funny term Frank Kern (one of my favorite marketers) uses when he wants to give an example of a niche]